Girl's Nite Out (1982)

MAY 25, 2018

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: STREAMING (YOUTUBE)

As slasher plots go, setting a killer loose on a group of college kids engaged in an all night scavenger hunt is a pretty solid one, and as slasher costumes go, putting your murderer in a goofy bear mascot outfit (complete with googly eyes) is pretty much the dumbest idea. Girl's Nite Out (aka The Scaremaker) does both, which alone would make it if nothing else one of the weirder entries in the slasher canon's golden era, but the movie goes a step further with a third act that defies any conventional wisdom about body count flicks, elevating a quirky but ultimately forgettable slasher into "You have to see this goddamn thing" territory for slasher aficionados. Everyone else should probably steer clear, though.

Despite the promising setup, for an hour or so the movie is just another weak slasher from the twilight of the slasher boom. The pacing is particularly damaging; the scavenger game doesn't even start for over forty minutes, forcing you to endure an endless party scene, a basketball game, the Final Girl's boyfriend Teddy's endless wooing of another woman before things finally get slashy. To be fair there are a couple of quick kills to tide us over until that point, but the first is of a gravedigger and seems like it was possibly added later to get another kill in, and the second is actually kind of a dumb move, as it's of Benson, the guy who usually wears the mascot costume. Why they'd cancel out a good red herring in a whodunit is beyond me; my only guess is that they were going for a "show the bomb under the table" vibe for all the subsequent scenes where someone sees the killer and thinks it's Benson, but for the most part he attacks almost as soon as they see him, and he never once uses his "in" to get someone alone (think Terror Train when he takes out Mitchy). As much as the movie needed some action in its first half, I would have rather they sprung his death as a surprise on us later.

Then again it's not particularly difficult to figure out who the killer is, since the performer is someone you'll probably recognize and they only appear in a couple of inconsequential early scenes, so as soon as you think "Hey where's ____? Why would they hire them to play that random?" you'll instantly realize you know exactly why - so they can turn up later as the killer (I've referred to this as "Orser's Rule", after actor Leland Orser, who showed up as an anonymous technician in Bone Collector, a rule otherwise beneath him at that point, making the film's mystery a complete non-starter). I won't spoil their identity for those who might not recognize the actor or actress, but I have more to say about the film's climax, so skip the next paragraph if you want to be as charmingly confused as I was.

So once the killing gets started, the movie becomes a pretty normal slasher (save for the goofy costume), as the murderer offs all of the girls playing the game while leaving the men alone (not that many of them seem to be playing anyway). The killer's weapon is cool at least - a homemade "bear claw" made out of knives taped together in between the fingers (so, basically a cheap version of Freddy's glove, but keep in mind this film predated Wes Craven's by two years), and there's some decent stalk and slash action in this 20-30 minute chunk of the film, if not quite enough to make up for its interminable first half. But then things go a bit haywire once our heroine Lynn (Julia Montgomery) finds the body of one of her friends and calls the cops... because they actually show up! And then we watch them interrogate the male characters for ten minutes, at a point in the film where we should be watching our killer chase her around for a while before she unmasks them and they explain themselves before chasing her again. The game is called off, and everyone goes home while we watch people get questioned and ruled out.

And it gets weirder, as Lynn goes home and we suddenly switch focus to Dawn, the girl Teddy cheated on her with. After Dawn's own boyfriend throws her out for her cheating ways, she realizes the killer is watching her and she runs to the nearest phone to call Teddy, who is trying to comfort Lynn, still upset about the whole "finding the dead friend" thing (I don't think she knows about the cheating). Teddy races off to help her, only to find her attacked/dying already, and then the unmasked killer steps out unceremoniously and stabs him, just as the head of campus security (Hal Holbrook!) shows up and calmly explains that he knows they're the killer. The killer rambles a bit, reveals another corpse behind them, and... it goes to credits. Teddy and Dawn's fates are left unresolved, Holbrook never makes any attempt to arrest/subdue the killer, and our would-be heroine Lynn is left out of the climax entirely. I was so delighted by the rule breaking that I now kind of love the movie despite being bored through more than half of it.

I wish I knew for sure that this unusual approach to a slasher movie's final reel was intentional, a way to throw the audience off after they've gotten so accustomed to how these things work after the past couple years. But sadly, I suspect the wonkiness was just the result of the film's unfortunate production schedule, in which the cast and crew allegedly had to shoot most of the movie over a weekend as they were using an active college campus and couldn't be disrupting normal activity. So it's possible that they didn't get to shoot everything and had to make do with what they had, even if it meant not having an actual ending for their movie. This would also explain the lethargic pace and endless scenes of little importance - they probably didn't have much, if anything, to cut to in order to pare down scenes (many of which are indeed single takes of two people talking), and if they cut these flab scenes entirely the film wouldn't be long enough to get released. And they probably wanted to use every bit of footage they had of Holbrook, who spends all but one of his scenes alone in his shots as they probably only had him for a few hours. Whenever he interacts with another character, there's nothing to establish them both in a single shot or even a body double to show how far apart they are or anything like that, resulting in more than one awkwardly staged conversation (the first time we see him is particularly clunky, as he seems spliced in from another movie entirely).

Now, all of this stuff will be amusing to slasher fans who are used to the basic template, but if you're a casual horror fan with no specific affinity for the sub-genre, you'll probably just see this as a stiff, bad movie. So I want to be clear that I only really recommend it to the people who live and breath these things, who can identify which movie a Jason mask is from based on its markings and things like that. In fact, Friday fans in particular will appreciate the movie more than the average bear, as Part 2's Lauren-Marie Taylor (of "The one with the puck" fame) appears as one of the non-Final Girls (who is apparently having an affair with her second cousin), and her death scene is one of the film's most memorable. As for me, I'm hellbent on seeing every slasher movie ever made, and I only just heard about the movie this week, so I hope my quest continues to uncover these oddities and make it all worthwhile. My usual stance is that if you've never heard of a movie in a genre you're particularly interested in there's probably a good reason - I hope I am proven wrong again (and again) in the future.

What say you?

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